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Living off the grid means that it’s just you and nature living harmoniously. There is no reliance on the power grid, no building codes, and no monthly garbage collection service. If you live in a place that depends on all the luxuries of the modern home, it’s not just a matter of cutting the wires. It entails resourcefulness and the skill to adjust to an unfamiliar way of life.
People who talk about survival eventually talk about filtering water off the grid. You see many kinds of reviews about off-grid water purification systems—whichever is preferred by the person doing the writing. Nevertheless, almost all of them have one thing in common; the difficulty in locating clean, off-grid living water supply.
Water is a basic necessity to life. One Scientific American article described that people can live up to a week or better without food but humans can generally only live two to three days without water. The Mayo Clinic notes that most people require about 64 fluid ounces of water or other liquid per day to prevent the devastating effects of dehydration.
A place with a reliable living off-the-grid water supply is essential if you want to survive independently from public utilities. However, it may be really hard to find clean water when you’re stuck in the wilderness. The consequences of ingesting contaminated water can be even worse than not drinking at all.
Getting water from a nearby stream sounds simple, but the danger of contamination from animal feces, bacteria and other pollutants demands the use of some kind of off-grid water filtration systems. If you have to find your own water supply, it’s essential to be able to strain out impurities that can make you sick.
Depending on where you live, or where you’re stranded, and what resources are available to you, how you get your water will vary. Improve your chances of survival by learning about safe water sources and reliable, DIY off-grid water purification methods.
1. Tree Branch Water Filter
In a paper published last year on PLOS One, researchers form the MIT ran contaminated water through a sapwood branch and discovered that the plant tissue effectively filtered out experimental dye and actual bacteria. This can be a practical off-grid water filter method that can be used by anyone. It can also be ideal in remote villages or emergency situations.
Rohit Karnik, mechanical engineer at MIT and coauthor of the study, mentioned that "It's too early to compare, but with further development of xylem-based filters, I think it would be fair to compare it to other filtering methods." Popular Mechanics pointed out that the filter required only a fresh branch of white pine and some cheap plastic tubing.
2. Water Purification Straw
If you find yourself in a situation where there’s no off-the-grid water system and all you can find is a straw, some cotton, and a coffee filter, what do you do? Build a water purification straw, of course.
Here’s how it works: on both ends of the straw there are filters to sift out any sediment that would typically be in the water. Then the inside of the tube can be filled with charcoal (or activated carbon) which kills the microorganisms lurking in the water. On one end of the straw the other filter prevents the carbon from entering your mouth as you drink. Instructables.com had made a good job enumerating the steps on how to make one.
Of course, if you're feeling lazy we've already done the research for you. Check out our curated list of some of the best portable water filters for sale online today.
3. Sand Filtration
Off-grid water systems that involve sand filtration offer the option of either slow or pressure processing. Slow processing means that water moves through the sand at roughly 2 liters per minute. On the other hand, pressurized sand filtration pumps the water at 40 liters per minute through the same amount of sand. Sand provides an inexpensive filter but does little to eliminate bacteria from the water.
The National Drinking Water Clearinghouse fact sheet, "Tech Brief: Slow Sand Filtration," says that sand filters need large fields for processing and "quantities of filter media, and manual labor for cleaning." The sand must also be cleaned regularly in order to keep it pure. The said fact sheet further claims that this method of filtration is a "simple and reliable process.”
4. Water Filtration Using Fruits
Another cheap and easy way to come up with a clean, off-the-grid water system is through the use of a handful of fruits. According to Wakeup-World.com, the peels of some of the most commonly consumed fruits worldwide are remarkably effective at absorbing a wide range of harmful pollutants, including heavy metals.
As such, they can be made into effective water filters with only a simple preparation. The site further mentioned several studies to back it up. It listed peels from banana, tomato, apple, and even coconut fiber & rice husks as some of the natural filters you can use to purify water. If this method seems like a perfect fit, you might want to check out our list of ways to filter water with plants.
5. Solar Disinfection
Solar disinfection is an effective off-the-grid water treatment method that is applicable to emergencies, especially when there are no chemical disinfectants around. Ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun are used to inactivate pathogens that are present in water.
This procedure involves putting water in clear plastic bottles and exposing them to sunlight for one whole day, ideally on the roof of a house. One drawback is that you must use relatively clear water in order for this method to be effective. To know how it’s actually done, head over to this post by All-Things-Emergency-Prepared.com.
EDITORS NOTE: Special thanks to our reader A. R. Hughes for pointing out that sunlight does degrade plastic, so if you do have the option, clear glass bottles would probably be a better choice. Of course, staying hydrated in an emergency situation is just as important. Cheers...
***Solar power can do much more than filter your water. This DIY guide has everything you need to know about heating your water with nothing but the power of the sun.
6. Ultraviolet Light Treatment
One more way to harvest the unique power of ultraviolet light is decontaminate your off-grid water system. UV light can act as a natural biological water filter. Extended exposure to artificial UV rays serves as a purification method for clean, filtered water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that water treated with UV light protects against "cryptosporidium," a type of "microscopic parasite that thrives in the intestine of infected animals and humans." The advantages of this filtering method include its low cost. One popular example is SteriPEN’s UV light technology that can eliminate over 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoa that cause water-borne illness.
7. DIY Gravity Water Filter
If you are an avid backpacker you need a lightweight and practical method for filtering water in the wild. Most filters available in the market are either bulky & heavy or require supplies like salt or batteries. Instead, you can make your own a gravity water filter by using two water bladders, a $15 Aquamira Frontier Pro filter or similar products, and a pack of chlorine dioxide purification tablets.
Jason Klass, a veteran backpacker and YouTuber, demonstrates the convenience, versatility, and low cost of this setup. Essentially, all you need to do is fill up your "dirty" water bottle directly from a lake, stream, or river, add the chlorine tablet, and attach your clean water bottle to the Aquamira filter. The other side of the filter is connected to the water reservoir where you drink from. This is ideal if you also have off-grid rainwater collection systems in place.
Gravity comes into play when you hang the dirty water from a tree branch. After that, you need to keep the clean water on the ground and in about half an hour you will have a couple liters of clean, drinkable water.
8. DIY Ceramic Water Filter
If you’re not stuck in the wilderness and lucky enough to have an abundant water source, you may still need to think about efficient ways for off-the-grid water storage. Prior to storing seemingly clear water, it’s crucial to make sure it is potable by filtering it. Ceramic water filter cartridges provide a low-cost, low-tech, and proven solution that enables clean water to be produced from just about any fresh water source.
YourPreparednessStory.com described that this type of filter consists of a ceramic shell which commonly contains activated carbon. The ceramic shell is littered with sub-micron sized pores that act to filter out small contaminants like particulates and bacteria. Moreover, the carbon inside treats the water by removing a wide spectrum of chemicals.
9. Evaporation Trap
All of the aforementioned methods require you to carry some water or at least have a water source nearby. What if you don’t have any? As NatureSkills.com indicated, it’s possible to pull moisture out of the earth. It is done by digging a hole in the ground and placing a container at the bottom that serves as an off-grid water storage. After that, you need to cover the hole with plastic so moisture won’t escape. Putting a small weight, such as a rock, in the center of the cover is necessary to so there can be a dip in the center.
It works when the water evaporates from the ground upwards and it condenses on the cover. The dip at the center ensures that the water drips back down into the container. Of course, this method obviously isn’t the quickest way to get clean water. Nonetheless, in the event of an emergency, being able to perform this technique may be life-saving.
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Water, apart from food and shelter, can become the most immediate need in most circumstances especially in a survival situation. Whether you find yourself in an urban emergency scenario or lost in the jungle, knowing these water filtering methods can spell the difference between endurance and dehydration.
You don’t want to wait until you are thirsty to start gathering water, as the urge to drink directly from the contaminated source can become intolerable. When there’s no modern way of acquiring clean water, the knowledge on off-grid water collection and filtration is critical. Becoming sick from drinking bad water, will further dehydrate you, thereby worsening your situation.